My favorite time of the year is Dec. 22, the day after the winter solstice, when hours of daylight slowly, imperceptibly increase. It always gives me hope.
For most of us, 2020 has been one long bleak midwinter, with little to engender joy or celebration. But before you give in to the kvetching of Festivus, take a breath, light some Frankincense-scented candles (to calm stress and anxiety) and settle in for a new seasonal story.
Deck the Halls
Nothing creates a warmer, more welcoming ambiance than lighting, says Deborah Winsor. The owner of Auguste Georges, a Georgetown home-furnishings store and interior design studio, suggests: “regardless of the weather or time of day, light a fire or a few candles. The flicker is meditative and instantly relaxes your mind and spirit.”
Winsor’s also a fan of keeping things simple: “You don’t have to go for elaborate displays to create that holiday vibe.” A few artfully placed pomegranates or ornaments in a bowl, magnolia branches (sprayed silver or gold or left au naturel) in a vase or homemade wreaths can be subtle but striking accents.
DIY decorating is also a great way to involve your kids or elders in your multigenerational COVID pod. Let them create a gallery wall of their favorite photos. To keep it affordable, go online for frames and swap out images later on.
Or you can dip amaryllis bulbs in paraffin and place in pretty bowls around the house. It’s simple to do, you never have to water them and they last for weeks. Visit theartofdoingstuff.com to learn how.
Finally, consider your tree. Or trees. This year, Winsor is dressing her front porch with a classic work-with-every-architectural-style look: evergreens wrapped in simple white lights.
Comfort and Joy
Even in the best of times, the holidays can be stressful and wearying. Steven Epstein, psychiatrist and department chair at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, prescribes exercise as his number-one mind-body cure. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, many have discovered the joys of working out,” he says. “And, at this time of year, when it’s cold and dark and we’re tempted by rich foods we may not ordinarily eat, it’s more important than ever to keep moving.”
Now that gyms have again closed their doors in D.C., Epstein recommends going outdoors to boost endorphin levels while getting the recommended daily amounts of sun — triggering vitamin D production — and fresh air. Just being outside (in the right clothes, of course) can refresh your outlook and may encourage you to discover a new activity that you’ve never tried before. It’s also a way to be with people in a safe and healthy setting.
At the same time, he advises, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed during the holidays, especially during this most unusual COVID Christmas, when you may not be able to see family and friends. “Take your own ‘mood pulse,’” Epstein says. “If you notice you are having issues that are getting in the way of doing your work or participating in activities you typically enjoy, don’t hesitate to share how you feel with someone you trust. Help is available and you don’t have to meet with someone face-to-face. Teletherapy is great and very effective. And if you see a friend or family member struggling, help them find the support they need.”
Epstein also suggests maintaining connections to a larger community through weekly calls, games with friends or virtual religious services. While solitude can be salutary, feeling isolated and alone can be dangerous, especially when you ruminate about trips not taken, friends and family not seen. Reach out and touch someone by phone, Zoom or social media.
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the NAMI HelpLine, 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
Visions of Sugar Plums
As a health coach in my other life, I see clients with food issues on a regular basis. Stress eating and rich holiday fare are another cause of heartburn. My advice? Eliminate guilt and shame from the menu by eating food that makes you feel good about yourself in the moment and in the mirror later. Share and savor meals that celebrate love and the pleasures of taste. Watch your portions, drink more water and make every mouthful count.
Mindfulness and meditation apps can restore your mental balance, as can basic breathing exercises. An easy one to do anytime: Breathe in to a count of four, hold for a count of seven and breathe out for a count of eight. Repeat as needed.
It may be hard to find gratitude for the year gone by, but the benefits of a gratitude practice — like those of mindfulness and mediation — are endless. It can lower your blood pressure, minimize the inflammatory response to stress, improve sleep and help manage depression.
It can also help us find a little light in the darkness, when optimism is in short supply.
PLUS: A Time to Give
COVID and its economic side effects have upended many families and stressed the nonprofits that serve them. #GivingTuesday may be over, but there’s still plenty of time to support these organizations or the charities of your choice.
Cancersupportcommunity.org provides help, hope and valuable resources to people with cancer and their families and caregivers.
Frontlineworkersdc.org funnels PPE and money to Bread for the City, Mary’s Center, Martha’s Table, the Leadership Council for Healthy Communities and the DC Dream Center.
Onegoalgraduation.org mentors low-income students, helping them graduate from high school and college.
Readingpartners.org places volunteers in low-income schools to help students master reading and other skills. During COVID, the program has moved to Zoom.